by: Hobart Taylor
Basically Baker Vol. 2 - Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra - (Patois Records)
This is an important record. While the performances are extraordinary, the compositions are the real stars here. The late David Baker was famous as an educator establishing one of the first Jazz Studies programs anywhere at the University of Indiana in 1968. Like his frequent collaborator Gunther Schuller and his mentor George Russell, he codified the relationship between "serious music", ("classical"), and the incredibly rich, nuanced, and transcendent compositional traditions in "jazz". This coalescence of traditions has acquired the moniker "third stream"... but in reality rather than becoming a new entity or genre, for the astute listener this is more than a channel. It is an opportunity to perceive music in a post generic context. George Russell helped expand musical consciousness by re-examining western melodic structures and championing modal changes as melodic transitions. This was not in opposition to traditional chord progressions, but an extension of musical possibilities in the western and global musical canons. Baker has been Russell's St. Paul spreading the Gospel, both in his instruction and composition. Check out his books like The Be-Bop Scales.
The long preamble of the previous paragraph is necessary because what is revolutionary about this music can be lost in our habits of classification. Big band music is often categorized as "nostalgic", "pedantic", "bombastic", "propulsive" and almost always "commercial" meaning popular but insubstantial. The projects of Mingus, Ellington, Zappa, and especially Sun Ra notwithstanding, artists who are not stars as soloists or small ensemble players garner less respect among younger jazz fans who were nurtured by star soloists and trios, quartets and quintets.
But some big bands (including Kamasi's project) recognize the correspondence between the jazz big band and the symphony orchestra. That is to say that large ensembles allow for incredibly intricate and intense musical experiences and performances by them are metaphors for the possibility of human cooperation on a grand scale. And even the best of the pop big bands, early Kenton, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Mel Lewis/Thad Jones,and Tadd Dameron, or today, The Metropole Orchestra, and a big band recently reviewed here, Tim Davies' carry this movement forward.
On this two disc set tunes like "The Georgia Peach", "Bebop" and "Honesty" could honestly change the way you hear music if you listen to them. Please listen to them.
Jason Hainsworth - Third Ward Stories - (Origin)
I may be slightly prejudiced here. My dad's family has deep roots in Houston's third ward, so I can clearly feel the steamy heat, see the relentless flora cracking the pavement, smell the collards and fatback on the stove somewhere out of sight, and walk by the grandma in a pink muumuu and curlers smoking her third Newport regally enthroned on a black metal lawn chair in front of her duplex on Dowling.
Saxophonist Hainsworth's own tunes are deeply evocative and just plain old damn pretty. They are throwbacks to the times when people played jazz on the jukebox. He covers a couple of classics, Wayne Shorter's "Prince of Darkness" and the Hoagy Carmichael chestnut "The Nearness of You" as well as a new tune by master trombonist Michael Dease (who is on the record) "Barack's Blues" (an Art Blakey march) masterfully, but special kudos should go to Hainsworth's writing abilities, especially on the title composition "Third Ward Stories" and "Conversations (with a 12-year-old)", my fave.
Steve Heckman - Legacy: A Coltrane Tribute - (Jazzed Media)
This is a nice laid back and swinging read of the master's style recorded live. "Impressions", "Resolution" and especially Heckman's compositional homage, "The Legacy" work best for me. Check out the nimble piano work of Grant Levin.
Will Bonness - Halcyon - (Manitoba film and Music)
Well here I am celebrating Canadian jazz again. I've played lot's of Toronto artists, and Calgary's (Al Muirhead and Hutcinson Andrew), and Vancouver has been represented. Now for Winnipeg. Pianist Bonness and cohorts play with the freedom of players who are not tied to the need to tailor their voices to a "scene". While the tunes follow established grooves, they are neither reverential or trendy. They seem just like natural extensions of the personas of the players themselves.... authentic. I really like "Halcyon", "Puddles", the blues, "Reflections", and the minor key marvel "Staring into the Sun".
Stu Harrison - Volume 1 - (One Nightstand Records)
A rising star on the Toronto scene, Pianist Harrison is joined by deans of the Canadian jazz scene, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke. While this recording focuses mainly on classics this is no generic trio record. It is rather a direct and thoughtful celebration of the piano trio tradition.